5 MUST-HAVE School Supplies to Keep Kids on the Path to Heaven

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It’s that time again when moms and dads across this great land finish checking off a mile-long list of obscure, annoyingly specific school supplies. We scour the internet, traipse through aisle after aisle of every big box store and office supply emporium around, trying to find the correct color, brand, and amount, at the right price. But there’s always one item at the bottom of the page that is nowhere to be found—that elusive pre-sharpened number 2 red Ticonderoga training marking-pencil with a white eraser fashioned out of rare unicorn dust and angel feathers…?

We’ve come a long way from my school days (way back in 19—ahem, never mind!) when the list consisted of at most four or five items—pencil, scissors, crayons, glue, and paper. This gets me thinking about what kids actually need to get across the finish line of school and ultimately life. Here’s a hint: you can’t get it at Walmart. What spiritual tools can I provide my children to help them navigate the more arduous path to heaven? A couple years ago, I compiled my first list: The Top 5 Must-Have School Supply Items for Every Catholic Kid. In the spirit of growing lists, I’ve added to it. For a refresher on what is at the top of my list, check it out here. Now for my 2019 new & improved edition of the essential spiritual school supply list:

5. St. Benedict Medal

Sadly, there’s no way to shield our kids from all of the evil that lurks in this world. But we can prepare them to combat it. Why not arm them with one of the strongest sacramentals out there? This medal is not only a reminder for kids to make good choices throughout their day, but it is also a powerful spiritual weapon. On the face of the medal is an image of St. Benedict, known as the father of western monasticism and the patron saint of students. As a young man, he saw his fellow pupils squandering their God-given gifts on pleasure rather than the pursuit of truth. Hmmm. Sound vaguely familiar to our modern educational system? Benedict is a potent intercessor for spiritual protection, helping to fight temptation and angst. On the back of the medal are the initials of an exorcism prayer that relates to an event in Benedict’s own life:

Begone, Satan,

Do not suggest to me thy vanities!

Evil are the things thou offerest,

Drink thou thy own poison!

There is a lot more behind the medal which you can read about here. You can purchase them at any Catholic gift shop. Get your medal blessed by a priest. Then remind little Janie or Johnny to stick it in a pocket or on a necklace and use it. St. Benedict, pray for our youth!

4. Holy Water

We wouldn’t dare send precious Buffy or Biff to school without a water bottle. They might have to use the water fountain. Gasp! Instead of making germ-free hydration our top priority, maybe we should be focused on leading kids to the Living Water. Keep a container of holy water on hand near the door. Before the kids leave, hit them with a few sprinkles to remind them of their baptism as new creations in Christ. When it’s a particularly harried morning, you can have some fun with it. “Ow! Mom, you got me right in the eye!” “Oops. Don’t know how that happened.” Consider offering them a quick blessing too. I like to say, “Provide Jesus a warm and loving home in your heart today,” or “God never tires of loving or forgiving you. Now be Christ to everyone you encounter.” These special moments of connection can be one of those traditions they pass on to their own children someday.

3.The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism

This book series is the spiritual equivalent of an at-home electric pencil sharpener. When things get a little dull, this book will keep kids on point. It’s got everything they need to know about church teaching, written in an easy-to-follow question and answer format. It’s meant for kids in about the third grade, but in my opinion, is helpful through at least 8th grade. I didn’t discover it until the third decade of my life. It could have prevented a lot of turmoil by answering some basic existential questions. Get this book! Keep it somewhere in the house that gets a lot of traffic. It’s a great source for discussion and can lead kids to deeper faith if they get some of the whys behind what we do and what we believe.

2. Inspirational Bible Verses

I know a lot of parents who put notes in their kids’ lunches which is super sweet. “Buford, eat your veggies! Love, Mom” Why not add a quick Bible passage? You could also put it on a post-it note and stick it to the seat in front of them for the commute to school. We can all stand to learn more scripture. Choosing a Bible passage means we adults have to put down our devices for a moment and crack open the Sacred Word while offering some inspiration to our kids. Win-win! If you have a child who is experiencing a particular struggle, cater the Bible verse to offer support and guidance for that issue. The verse could be a good entry point for some hearty discussion at the dinner table. When a kid is well-formed in scripture, they will have the benefit of wisdom to safely lead them through life’s fires. Wondering where to start? Open any of St. Paul’s epistles.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

-Romans 12:21

1. My Identity as a Son/Daughter of God Prayer

Wow, these prayers hit the mark! If you’re not familiar, allow me to be the first person to put them on your spiritual radar. They are poetic, yet powerful reminders of our noble purpose here on Earth.

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Written by Father Ignatius Mazanowski of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, the Identity prayer arms a tween or teenager with the knowledge of who he/she is, a son or daughter of the King. Look no further than the staggering news accounts of mass shootings, bullying, and depression to understand the depth of confusion and isolation in young people. Praying is an effective way to combat all the negativity, hate, and competition that is rampant in schools and on social media. It is too easy for an adolescent to lose sight of his true identity as a child of God. We can easily fall into the culture trap of finding our worth in what we do, or the labels other people give us. Reciting this prayer regularly can help build a kid’s self-esteem on a solid Christian foundation. Print a bunch of these. Post it on the bathroom mirror. Slip it in a backpack or the glove box. Use them as bookmarks in textbooks. Tack it to the fridge. Recite it as a family in the evening. Kids need to get hit with messages multiple times before they stick. Seize all the opportunities available. Stand back and marvel at the transformation!

Making saints is tough work, but take heart, it’s also a heck of a lot more rewarding than buying the perfect protractor. While graduation is certainly a noble goal, let’s lead our kids safely across the eternal finish line. May God grant all parents the strength and zeal to bring His children home. A holy and happy school year to all of you!

Where, O, Death is your Victory?

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For those of you who mourn the death of a loved one, this is the time when we joyfully (yet often with tears in our eyes) anticipate our eventual reunion in heaven. May the powerful hope of seeing our dear ones again, that is made possible by our Lord’s victorious Resurrection, be with you this Easter season and always. Oh, what a glorious day!

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Unplanned Peace on the Sidewalk at the Abortion Clinic

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There are those rare, fleeting moments in family life where all is strangely calm and even peaceful. Amidst the chaos of continual spats, boundless horseplay, jockeying for position, and a whole lot of random noise, quiet contentment is like a refreshing, cool rain after a stretch of oppressively, sticky-hot weather.

I can probably count those occasions on both hands. Don’t mistake me. It is not the stillness that occurs after a trip to the library when we are all happily, individually ensconced in our reading, or the brief, eerie quiet before an epic fight erupts. It’s those extraordinary times when we are resting in each other as a family. Picture a tranquil moment between a nursing mother and her baby. I remember the hours right after my dad died, when my brothers and I, a disparate group, to say the least, sat in a Denny’s, saying very little, yet joined together so profoundly. I’m speaking of a muted, but powerful connectedness—a surrender to love and understanding. Peacefully unified as we engage with one another. No one left out. It’s what I imagine to be a mere taste of the eventual glorious coming together with the Triune God in heaven.

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An Open Letter to the Motorcycle Man with the Obscene Message on His Jacket

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Dear Mr. Motorcycle Man,

Our family saw you a couple weeks ago en route to dinner. We planned to hit the parish fish fry and follow up with stations of the cross. The hope was for a fun, wholesome family-friendly evening. 

We actually heard you before ever laying eyes on you. Your big belching Harley snaked through the lines of cars behind us. In seconds you were within eyesight range in the lane next to us as we slowed for a red light. It appeared a typical Friday evening rush hour. Commuters were jam-packed on one of Denver’s busiest thoroughfares, all impatiently waiting for the green after miles of painstakingly slow stop and go traffic. The leather jacket you wore, however, was anything but typical.

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Feasting, Fasting & Perfection

What’s your take on fasting? If you’re a well-adjusted God-fearing, healthy individual, it’s always a good thing, right? Recently, God the Father surprised me by His answer.

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Why am I even thinking about fasting now?! According to the liturgical calendar, we are squarely in a season of feasting. Woohoo! Lemme at the goodies! Yesterday we marked the joyful feast of the Epiphany. Our family joined another family at a doughnut shop after Mass. And what says feasting better than greasy fried cakes covered with icing and sprinkles? Nothing in my book. While I did manage to refrain from partaking in the sugary treats this time, the truth is, ever since Christmas Eve I have taken to the feasting principle like a portly duck to buoyant waters. Who doesn’t enjoy all the great foods that accompany our jubilant holy days during the Christmas season? I single-handedly made enough pizzelles to supply the Italian World Cup soccer team for a good year. Santo Cielo!

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Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

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Holding Out for a Miracle

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

—Matthew 7, 7-8

I was reading a very insightful reflection on prayer recently and was struck by something mentioned. It stood out because the author advised a practice I normally don’t adhere to.

“Pray boldly!” it stated in very clear black and white.

Hmmm… this shocked me to be quite honest. The writer’s directive for having a successful prayer life was essentially ‘to go big or go home.’ Huh.

What does praying BOLDLY even look like?

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